Why are Russians so fearless

Wealth does not have to go with the devil, as Mikhail Bulgakov demonstrated during the Soviet era. In his novel "The Master and Margarita" the devil turns the whole of Moscow upside down, but when it comes to real estate, it is said that no magic is needed. Just through clever barter deals you can move it from a shabby basement to a beautiful six-room apartment.

The Russian opposition politician Alexej Navalny often cites treasures of Soviet culture, cinema comedies, cartoons, posters in his videos. The nostalgic memes bring a little warmth to the hard topicality of the facts. Navalny picked up Bulgakov's apartment swap for an otherwise rather unadorned video, the amazing effect being based on the precise correspondence with the Soviet template.

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Stepan Orlov, the leader of the Kremlin's "United Russia" faction in the Moscow City Duma, has swapped apartments with the city, which is very generous across from him, as often as three out of his 58 square meter apartment in a suburb Properties totaling 250 square meters in a prime location on the Arbat were included, including a company apartment. Navalny's balance sheet, more amused than indignant: "We are being robbed in such an elegant way that Bulgakov would have died of enthusiasm."

Almost 100 million people have seen the video about the "Palace for Putin"

Navalny released the six-minute long film in September 2019, when he had already had a remarkable career as an opposition politician: 27 percent of the votes in Moscow's mayoral election, a presidential candidacy prevented, the weakening of the Kremlin party through strategic voting. And yet the 1.2 million viewers of that time are a negligible audience compared to the more than 100 million visitors who saw his latest, so far most daring work on the "Palace for Putin", including a water disco, oyster farm and golden toilet brush.

The fact that the former blogger from a village near Moscow is a problem that the Kremlin can hardly solve, that Navalny himself has not brought as many people onto the streets as he has been in years and that protests can be expected again on Sunday, all of this has a lot to offer the Russian tradition of political savior figures to do. And with Youtube.

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First the Savior. Much has been written about Navalny's courage when he returned to Russia from Germany, although nothing good awaited him there. If you look at previous power struggles in Russian history, you have to say: He had little choice. The anarchist Sergei Nechayev, author of the "Revolutionary Catechism", violent and so agitated that he even got his prison guards on his side, was always ready to give his life to overthrow the tsar. The revolutionary Vera Sassulitsch was only acquitted by a jury after an attack on a police captain because her unselfish motives were recognized. Just like the Decembrists before them, like Alexander Solzhenitsyn or Mikhail Khodorkovsky after them, they belonged to those larger-than-life and mission-conscious liberators that every Russian autocracy reliably produces. The difference is: Navalny has a sense of humor.

He is trained on late night shows and political stand-up comedy

He comments on the chalets of a corrupt Moscow official in a forest in southern Europe with poisonous mockery: "Nature weeps when it sees what Russian money is being used for." In his film about two hated journalists on state television, he condenses the vulgarity and submissiveness of the regime nightingales into an original montage of two words: "Natschalnik" and "schopa". Boss (meaning Putin) and ass. It is unthinkable that Russia's scrupulous liberal intelligentsia would have ever made such infantile jokes. But it is also unthinkable that Russia's scrupulous liberal intelligentsia would have mobilized so many young people.

Unlike Putin, who was socialized in Germany, Navalny studied at Yale on a scholarship. His media understanding is trained in late night shows and political stand-up comedy, in storytelling and blockbusters. Over the years he has developed a sense of timing and speed that few TV presenters have, and certainly hardly any politician. The anti-corruption videos with all their sequels and prequels add up to a big saga of the struggle between good and evil, or, as it says on his website, "good and neutrality". Politicians, lawyers or propagandists feign love for the fatherland and harass oppositionists as "foreign agents", the story goes, but in reality they are stealing millions from Russian taxpayers to amass property across Europe.

Navalny himself presents himself as a man from the people, honest but clever. Once he took the audience to his apartment in a prefabricated building to record a video because the technology from his foundation was confiscated. But wait, that doesn't work, because his apartment could also be confiscated, the Moscow prosecutor Denis Popov threatened to do so. So he takes his audience south, to Montenegro, where he books a room in the hotel of the Moscow public prosecutor who officially belongs to Popov's wife, and drinks a glass of wine on the terrace.

Navalny plays out the confrontation between the ossified kleptocracy without a fatherland and the casual, ironic young Russia in many variations. Even before the Russian secret service tried to kill Navalny with the neurotoxin Novichok in August, he must have known that his revelations could cost him his life and freedom. In front of the camera, however, he does not show the slightest hesitation. When you see him singing Schlager on an investigative mission in the car, the work as a corruption fighter seems less dangerous than more like an adventure, fun. On a research trip Navalny jokes about the brightly colored wardrobe of his investigative colleague, the documentary filmmaker Georgij Alburow. Actually you wanted to work inconspicuously, you could probably forget that given those Hawaiian shirts.

His foundation is financed by donations, also from the Russian business world

With the documentaries of his foundation, the Youtoube channel "Navalny Life", with millions of followers on Telegram, Instagram or the Russian Facebook counterpart WKontakte, Navalny has created a small alternative media empire in ten years. His foundation is financed by donations, individual and regular, also from the Russian business world.

An interesting factor in his work should be the support from the system itself. Nawalny's team analyzes the flood of images on social media, public information from land registry offices, for example, it operates with artificial intelligence and drone flights - but all of this would be much less effective without the collaboration from inside the apparatus. The reference to Popov's Montenegrin possessions came straight from the Moscow prosecutor's office, according to Navalny, and the plans for Putin's palace from contracted construction companies.

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As if Navalny didn't look like a younger, more modern version of the seemingly endlessly ruling Russian President. Putin was once loved by millions of Russians for his decency and admired for his vitality. The hearts of women flew to him because he did not bully and did not drink, pop singers wrote him songs ("One like Putin"). In the meantime, his people hardly ever get to see him, and when they do, he looks numbered and old. When Navalny ridiculed Putin as a "bunker grandpa" and recently even insulted him as a madman, he is targeting the fears of a society that has had bitter experiences with insane rulers. Half a year after the attack, he, Navalny, seems indestructible and boyish as ever.

So you watch with bated breath at a showdown in which the funds are unevenly distributed, but the opponents also have similarities. For example on foreign policy issues. Putin has gambled away all credit with his Georgia policy and the annexation of Crimea in the West. Navalny, in turn, disapproves of the funds, but he can live with the results. "Nationalist" is not a dirty word for him. A few years ago he not only took part in the "Russian marches" of the right-wing and far-right, but also joined the "Chwatit kormit 'Kawkas" movement, we have fed the Caucasus enough.

And then there is - merciless internet - a video in which Navalny shows understanding for xenophobic unrest after a young woman was raped by a Kyrgyz two years ago and calls for a visa for migrants. "Putin's concept is to bring hundreds of thousands of migrants to Russia in order to rejuvenate society," says Navalny. Many become criminals or deal in drugs, but the police do nothing about it and state television is silent. The familiar elements - the protection of the Russian people, the rights of taxpayers, the controlled media - suddenly appear ambivalent and no longer so inviting. And an ugly word comes to the fore. It's called a populist.